Methods in biblical scholarship

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Fri Dec 24 23:30:25 EST 1999

See my comments below.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Methods in biblical scholarship
Author:  <npl at> at Internet
Date:    24/12/1999 10:23

Trying to get the 'subject' right.

PK: Thank you, that's a good idea.

> From:     peter_kirk at [SMTP:peter_kirk at] 

> To oversimplify, there are three main hypotheses around for the 
> composition of the bulk of the Hebrew Bible as we know it:
> 1) The Copenhagen approach, if I may correctly so call it, that most 
> was written in the 2nd century BCE, or not long before;
> 2) The traditional scholarly approach of dating books over a range 
> from roughly the 8th to the 4th century;
> 3) The evangelical approach, attributing the Pentateuch to Moses and 
> dating other books as more-or-less contemporary records.
> Approach 2) has been rightly criticised as lacking real evidence.
     [Niels Peter Lemche]
     Just the case that proposal cover more than 500 years (as a matter
of fact from 10th century BCE to 4th or 3rd centirues BCE) tells us that 
there is no hard evidence available. The tendency has been also outside of 
my circle to downdate to the exilic post-exilic periods. This may because of 
lack of hard data change tomorrow, as it has done before.
> The
> problem to me is that I have not seen any real evidence for approach 
> 1) (but then I have not read your books, I am afraid).
     [Niels Peter Lemche]
     The hard data is first of all the age of the oldest manuscript, the
discovery (not really new) that the text tradition was not finally settled 
in the 1st century BCE (DSS evidence)...

PK: Surely it takes some time, quite a few manuscript generations, for 
text traditions to diverge, and that is good evidence that the texts 
were written several centuries before the DSS period?

.. More recently we have started asking questions about what I call the 
profile of the authors of biblical literature: What did they know, what 
stuff did they use, and does this say anything about their education or 
place of living?

PK: Good questions, but the problem is that if we don't know anything 
(except for a very limited amount from archaeology - of course we can 
presuppose nothing from the books we are trying to date) about life in 
Canaan before the 1st or 2nd century, then we have no way of knowing 
what the authors might have been expected to know, use, what their 
education might have been etc. during these periods. Even if the 
picture fits Hellenistic times, there is no way of being sure that it 
does not fit just as well earlier times. There may be a few clues of 
course, see my posting just now about brickmaking. Other possible 
clues would include the authors' knowledge of Egypt: is the picture we 
find in the biblical books closer to the reality of the 2nd century or 
to that of much earlier times?

> I know that
> approach 3) cannot be proved, but at least it has the possible 
> evidence of the self-attribution of the books and of ancient
> tradition, and also some support from the archaeological record
> (although that is of course also dubious). So I see no good reason to 
> abandon approach 3), though I have to admit that one reason for
> preferring it is the presuppositions of my personal faith. 
     [Niels Peter Lemche]
     Right, there is no other defense of such a view than personal

PK: That's not what I said. I accept that personal beliefs hold a 
place. But there is other evidence or potential evidence. One can 
argue, I'm not sure how soundly, that the self-attestation of a book, 
its internal evidence of authorship and dating, should be taken at 
face value unless good reason is shown why a particular inaccurate 
attestation has been given - and also how a recently written book 
could become accepted as ancient scripture. (Yes, I know that there 
are demonstrably pseudonymous books from Hellenistic times e.g. Enoch, 
but they were never taken as canonical.) Then there is potential 
evidence from agreement with archaeology and accurate picturing of 
ancient times and customs. (Yes, I know the evidence is equivocal on 
this one, but for example the Tel Dan inscription seems to tell us 
that David really existed, or at least that the traditions about him 
are very much older than the 2nd century.)

PK: Here is what I consider to be strongest evidence for taking the 
books to be what they claim to be. I would challenge anyone to explain 
why writers in Hellenistic times (or even in earlier post-exilic 
times) would have portrayed their ancient patriarchs and kings (e.g. 
Abraham, Moses, David) in such equivocal terms, certainly not as 
heroes, but not as out-and-out villains either, rather as very 
fallible men (and women e.g. Sarah). Is there any precedent in other 
literature of the period or earlier for such ambiguous portrayals of 
main characters? On the other hand, we know that real people are like 
that. So I consider this to be good evidence that the narratives are 
based on accurate reports of these people's real lives.

Peter Kirk

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